Monday, June 26, 2006


Justices: Defendants can hire own lawyers
6/26/2006, 2:53 p.m. ET
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defendants are automatically entitled to new trials if their choices of attorneys are wrongly blocked by judges, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

By a 5-4 vote, justices said Cuauhtemoc Gonzalez-Lopez has a constitutional right to the attorney of his choice under the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of assistance of counsel.

"It commands, not that a trial be fair, but that a particular guarantee of fairness be provided — to wit, that the accused be defended by the counsel he believes to be the best," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority.

In his first written dissent, Justice Samuel Alito accused Scalia of making "a subtle but important mistake" in interpreting the constitutional guarantee. Alito said "the focus of the right is the quality of the representation ... not the identity of the attorney who provides the representation."

But Scalia insisted the identity of defense counsel does matter. "Different attorneys will pursue different strategies," he wrote. "And the choice of attorney will affect whether and on what terms the defendant cooperates with the prosecution, plea bargains, or decides instead to go to trial."

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